Could coalition compromise keep Netanyahu out of jail?

Written by on August 24, 2020

There are multiple scenarios where jail time could be a potential end game for Netanyahu, whether he is convicted at trial or in a plea bargain.

WITH HIS court case looming on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is launching a last-ditch campaign against the levers of civil society, in particular the judiciary, the police and the role of the free press. (photo credit: TAL SHAHAR/REUTERS)

WITH HIS court case looming on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is launching a last-ditch campaign against the levers of civil society, in particular the judiciary, the police and the role of the free press.

(photo credit: TAL SHAHAR/REUTERS)

The impending coalition compromise raises many questions, especially about the role that it could play in the future of Israel’s prime minister.

One of the key points of dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White head Benny Gantz centers on key appointments in law enforcement, including the police chief, the state attorney, and eventually in 2022, the attorney-general.

While it is too late for these appointments to impact the issue of whether Netanyahu is indicted – he has already been indicted on fraud, breach of trust and bribery – the officials appointed to these roles may have crucial authority over whether he goes to jail.

In addition, these officials can have influence over a range of other legal issues impacting Netanyahu, his key coalition partners and Gantz.

There are multiple scenarios where jail time could be a potential end game for Netanyahu, whether he is convicted at trial or in a plea bargain.

In June 2018, The Jerusalem Post reported exclusively that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit was open to a plea bargain with no jail time to avoid a controversial indictment and trial that would divide the country.

However, that ship has long since sailed.

Expectations are that even if Netanyahu agreed to plead guilty, at this point he has created so much controversy that Mandelblit would see little value in saving the prime minister from jail time. Now, the attorney-general probably views it as imperative for Netanyahu to serve some jail time, to send a deterrent message to future politicians who might think of themselves as above the law.

Mandelblit’s successor, however, might not see things the same way.

The attorney-general would have the final decision on a plea deal and on how much prison time to seek if Netanyahu is convicted. But if the next state attorney has a more lenient view toward Netanyahu, that could force the attorney-general to be more flexible.

It is one thing to send the prime minister to jail when the entire law enforcement apparatus is united; it is quite another if the two top law enforcement officials disagree.

IN THE MERE three months that he was acting state attorney, Dan Eldad, who was seen as doing Netanyahu’s bidding, created massive amounts of chaos, weakening the prosecution’s unified stand.

Eldad also probably unnecessarily exposed Gantz to a spike in press coverage over the Fifth Dimension probe right before election day.

Critics of Mandelblit would say that Eldad was just giving Gantz a little bit of the medicine that Netanyahu had to face over the course of multiple elections. But Gantz is not a suspect in the Fifth Dimension probe and Netanyahu is at the heart of all of the three cases in which he is a defendant.

In addition, there has been an ongoing preliminary review related to Netanyahu in the “Stock Affair” case. He might become a suspect for concealing around NIS 16 million from the state comptroller. Some commentators also think that the case could thrust Netanyahu as a suspect back into Case 3000, the “Submarines Affair,” though to date Mandelblit has said that the prime minister is in the clear.

There are three other major corruption cases still waiting for decisions.

Former Likud coalition chairman David Biton, Shas party leader Arye Deri and United Torah Judaism party leader Ya’acov Litzman are all potentially in the hot seat.

The police announced their recommendation to indict Litzman in August 2019 for fraud, witness tampering and breach of public trust for allegedly interfering in the extradition of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer. In a second case, the police recommended indicting Litzman for bribery.

Moreover, also in August, just one week after it was decided to indict Litzman, former state attorney Shai Nitzan recommended to Mandelblit to indict Deri for tax crimes, fraud, money-laundering and some unspecified obstruction crimes.

Police had recommended indicting Deri almost a year before, in November 2018, after a nearly three-year probe.

Likewise, in January, the police recommended that the prosecution indict Bitan for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses.

Decisions regarding the cases of all of these Netanyahu allies could be impacted by the next round of law enforcement appointees.

THE CRITICAL question seems to be the balance of power between Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and a joint Likud-Blue and White committee. Will Nissenkorn retain the power to vet candidates with the joint committee will merely having final say at the tail end of the process? Or will the committee also influence the earlier vetting stage?

If a Likud-Blue and White committee is only involved in final approval, then even if it does not approve a standard, senior official for promotion, a similar such official would likely take over, if only in an acting position.

In the case of the state attorney role, Mandelblit would continue until February 2022 as acting state attorney and Moti Cohen would continue as acting police chief.

If the joint committee gets to choose potential candidates, then its members will have much greater influence and could potentially appoint some people who are more favorable to Netanyahu.

The coming months will likely show whether Gantz’s highest priority is influencing law enforcement decisions, keeping his status as the next prime minister or avoiding elections.

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